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City Spires & Towers #8

A couple of revisits in this year’s first posting of City Spires & Towers. The biggest change is perhaps 22 and 100 Bishopsgate which more than a year ago were still mostly concrete skeletons with far less height than now. The enormous changes on Bishopsgate has invariably changed the area around Liverpool Street and Aldgate as London races to become a city of intensive skyscrapers squeezing out every drop of air space above its streets.

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The massive 22 Bishopsgate complex – about to outdo the others including Tower 42, Cheesegrater, Scapel & Lloyd’s

This latest post is about the Boltophs in Aldgate and Bishopsgate and St Helen’s. But first, St Boltophs, the one that claims not to have anything to do with Aldgate! This particular St. Boltoph’s has not been covered in this series so far. One reason for its exclusion was the unsightly works taking place about it. Now that this has finished a proper setting for the church itself can be seen. And what an amazing change. St. Boltophs is even more Aldgate these days! The inconvenience and the rebuilding to provide a pedestrian area and remove those ugly subways has at the same time given so much more character to the church itself. The new gardens are nice and the single bench seats are a cute touch.

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Aldgate Square with the Portsoken Pavillion and St. Boltoph’s

Its certain to prove a great place to relax or a stopping over place for tourists who may be wandering around the City and perhaps heading towards the Tower and the Thames and the fact there is a cafe which doubles as a kind of art sculpture is a nice touch. Much preferable to the roads that once stood here!

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The new fountains in Aldgate Square

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St. Boltoph’s has gained far more space since the roads system was removed

Here’s a couple of pictures of the church more than a year ago at different times. In the first (May 2017) some small remains of the Aldgate gyratory system can still be seen. In the second (Feb 2017) its a view looking across the construction site of what would eventually become the new square. What a difference!

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I did a series of views showing the area ten years ago however it made this post far too long and decided to jettison this bit as City Spires and Towers is more about the now. To recap it essentially looks at the struggle for control of London’s skies. Churches were of course the original keepers of the skies for a very obvious reason and for that alone, they were allowed to attain heights other buildings could not. St Pauls for example, completed in 1708 with a height of 365 feet (111m) high, no other building was allowed these sort of heights, not even the other churches!

Conversely no-one was allowed to build higher than any church until the later years of the 19th Century when Darwin had demonstrated life was about evolution, not the attainment of God. Nowadays its a different kettle of fish. Money is the power that enables people to reach the skies. The churches thought they were the guardians of humanity’s future. Its clear they are not.

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St. Boltoph’s without Aldgate is one of the more fortunate City churches. The new Aldgate Square has given it so much more essence rather than some tall skyscraper dumped right next door as is usually the case. If one stands back well enough, say on the south side of Aldgate itself, its clear just how fortunate St. Boltophs is. Both 22 and 100 Bishopsgate are new additions to the skyline (though that will change yet again in time to come) and many of the City’s other important structures can be seen (depending on where on stands along this road) including the Walkie Talkie, Scapel, Cheesegrater, Gherkin and Tower 42. They currently all keep a fair distance, though I am sure the desperate grab for the skies will eventually crowd out St. Boltoph’s spire.

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The near complete 22 Bishopsgate, with the far more diminutive Tower 42 reflected in its windows

22 Bishopsgate is a huge building. Its massive even when viewed from the south side of the Thames. Pity poor St Helens church, which has another skyscraper to contend with. This church is practically surrounded by these huge towers and 22 Bishopsgate certainly has made a huge sky estate grab.

I’m quite certain the church wishes it had used the old right to light laws and put about its sides ‘ancient lights.’ Had that been done barely any of these skyscrapers would be there. Sadly many of the old buildings and churches have been caught out because a couple of centuries ago no-one ever envisaged these gigantic structures. St. Helens has its light cut out to the southeast, south, and now the south west with the near complete 22 Bishopsgate whilst 100 Bishopsgate at its north west corner adds to this vast light reducing exercise.

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St Helens church becoming more diminutive with 100 Bishopsgate well on the way to completion

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Practically the doorstep of St. Helen’s church! (tho to be fair its also that of the Great St. Helen Hotel)

The other St Boltophs, the one without Bishopsgate, though again its no doubt in Bishopsgate! Before we move on, ‘without’ is more of an eccelastical description to denote the church was not within the old city walls. Changes over time has made the ‘without’ description somewhat redundant, however spotting a ‘without’ church invariably means one is standing outside the perimeter of the old City of London.

In a somewhat interesting twist, some of the ‘without’ churches were in later years described as ‘befores.’ What this means is the church stood before the gateway of the same name leading into the city, and I find the churches mentioned in this post were therefore described as St. Boltophs before Bishopsgate (or Aldgate.) The boundary of the city no doubt moved over time and expanded to include these churches and more, hence the ‘without’ became redundant and that is probably why some were instead called by the other description (eg before) which made better sense.

St Boltoph’s in Bishopsgate has both 100 and 22 Bishopsgate right up its street. There’s already the Heron tower almost right opposite the church then the others leading to 22 Bishopsgate. To the north many new ones have risen too, such as Principal Place in Norton Folgate, though these are residential rather than offices and reflect the demographic shift towards the more residential areas.

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St. Boltoph’s with 100 and 22 Bishopsgate on its radar

The city itself is in constant change and like its boundaries which now seem to have merged with the surrounding areas – especially how in some places the lions guarding the entrance to the city perimeter have disappeared as if the city itself wants to be more inclusive…. St. Boltoph’s like many other city churches, is within a forest of skyscrapers. Although the church itself is somewhat fortunate not to have one right on its doorstep, they’re not that far away and certainly with the advent of 22 and 100 Bishopsgate the outlook along the A10 road has changed enormously.

Previous City Spires & Towers Posts:

#1 – All Hallows by the Tower with the Walkie Talkie

#2 – All Hallows, St Dunstan’s, St Magnus, St Margaret Pattens

#3 – St Magus, St Mary’s, St Margaret’s, St Dunstan’s

#4 – St. Helen’s, St. Andrews Undershaft, Cheesegrater, Scapel

#5 – Jason Hawkes’ photos of the City’s churches and towers

#6 – The Scapel, St. Helen’s, St. Margaret Pattens, St Edmund’s

#7 – Night time scenes of the City’s churches and towers

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